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The Secret History

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  95,364 ratings  ·  6,894 reviews
Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another...a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of...more
Paperback & E-book, 559 pages
Published April 13th 2004 by Vintage (first published 1992)
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Kristen M I'm about halfway through the book, but because Tartt does such a great job with spoiler alerts from the start, whatever the ending is, I'm sure I…moreI'm about halfway through the book, but because Tartt does such a great job with spoiler alerts from the start, whatever the ending is, I'm sure I will be underwhelmed.

All of the characters positively turn me off, as does the entire book, for that matter. I've seriously contemplated not even bothering to finish it, giving it away to someone, or donating it to Goodwill -- unread. It is sitting atop my commode in case I have a few idle moments.(less)
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Sep 26, 2008 Rebecca rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one
This novel, like so many other first novels, is full of everything that the author wants to show off about herself. Like a freshman who annoys everyone with her overbearing sense of importance and unfathomable potential, Donna Tartt wrote this book as though the world couldn't wait to read about all of the bottled-up personal beliefs, literary references, and colorfully apt metaphors that she had been storing up since the age of 17.

The most fundamentally unlikable thing about this book is that a...more
The first paragraph of The Secret History roughly sums up the mood of the book. In it, the narrator, Richard Papen, says that he thinks his fatal flaw is 'a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs'. If you can relate to these words, chances are you'll love The Secret History. If not, you'll probably wonder what the fuss is all about. Personally, I can totally relate to these words, so I love the book. I've read it over half a dozen times, and while I do think it has its problems, I never...more
Mar 26, 2011 Jamie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Katie McCrackin
Okay, this book. This book was a lot of fun, partially, I think, because it was written in this fashion which made determining whether this was past, present or future virtually impossible. It was very romantically written and I tend to go for that sort of thing: simple meals of tomato soup and skim milk, five college-aged students who drink tea as well as burbon, scotch and on occasion whiskey--but not with anything as muddled and middle-class as coke mixed in--no, they drink it on ice, in thic...more
Maggie Stiefvater
Five Things About The Secret History.

This is going to be a difficult book for me to talk about. I finished it days ago but I find myself a little verklempt, I’ll admit. It’s been a long time since a book has stuck with me so completely as this one, and I say that having had a quite remarkable year for memorable reading. So, the summary is straightforward and completely unhelpful: a Californian boy arrives at a private New England college where he falls in with a bunch of snooty but delightful C...more
Oct 17, 2007 Abby rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who went to a liberal arts college
Shelves: favorites
The Secret History by Donna Tartt is like drinking the scotch the characters drink in the book: smooth, sweet, smoky and scalding. You keep drinking, having no idea how drunk your getting. Then you try to stand up and the world falls out from under your feet.

The Secret History captured me from the first page with the introduction of the narrator, Richard, and his memories of Hampden College in Vermont. He falls in with a group of "Intellectuals" studying the Classics under the tutelage of an ec...more
Paquita Maria Sanchez
First of all, if you are one of those people who dismiss a book as inherently bad simply because you "just couldn't relaaa-yeeete to aunnny of the charaaactaaaars *gum smack-smack-smack*" then do not read this book. If you can relate to anyone in this novel, then I dismiss you as inherently bad. In fact, I fucking hate you. Yes, you, because my guess is that, as a modern-day example of all the characters in this novel, you probably have a goodreads account, and read nothing but "tome-suh" and wr...more
Dec 04, 2013 Paul rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
Apparently the New York Times described The Secret History as "Powerful...Enthralling...A ferociously well-paced entertainment" and Time said "A smart, craftsman-like, viscerally compelling novel."

Very funny, guys, ha ha and all that. They're such jolly jokesters. They'll have you believing anything. The Secret History is complete tripe - no, that's harsh, let me put it another way - it's COMPLETE TRIPE - oh dear, this keyboard has a mind of its own! and is very firm about its opinions too! - b...more
UPDATE 18/02/2014:-Given how often I think of this book and the conspicuous prickle at the back of my neck every time I remember the characters and their cold complicity in one ignoble act after another, I guess it won't be an exaggeration to state that the memories of reading this book are more potent than the experience of actually reading it was. I am not disowning my earlier review but I believe the only way to be fair to Donna Tartt will be to concede another star.

Now begins my earlier revi...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joe Hill
Oct 23, 2007 Joe Hill rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone
Someone just brought up Nietzsche’s Apollonian vs. Dionysian theory, which is described at the link below, if you are as unfamiliar as I was.

Apparently Donna Tartt was well-versed in this theme, as it is prevalent in The Secret History. The gist of Nietzsche’s theory is that the ancient Greeks attained such a high level of culture mainly due to their personal struggle between the opposing philosophies of Apollo and Dionysus; Apollo being the god of art, a...more
This. Was. Utterly. Fucking. Awful. A murder mystery dressed up as something more; a whydone it rather than a whodoneit — though very quickly you will think of it as a whogivesafuckit. Narrated by the blandest man on the planet. Peopled with idiotic, insufferable, intellectual, navel-gazing twats you cannot differentiate because Tartt decided to throw character development and discernible personalities out the window. A book so boring it brings to mind George Carlin’s description of watching gol...more
I remember that I liked it when I read it. But I don't recall that much of the book, and in general my system is that the less I remember, the more I mark it down. Of course, that could say more about me than about the book.

I do recall being just a little skeptical about how good the author's knowledge of classics was. It's not like I know anything about the subject - I did a couple of years of Latin at school, which I hated, and I only just passed my exams. But there were a couple of funny mome...more
mark monday
The Secret History is about as convincing as Less Than Zero. how has this book stayed so popular? well, Less Than Zero also remains popular. i'll take lev grossman's The Magicians over both of them, and that one is aggravating too. (1) i'm so tired of people who are so tired of everything! (1b) ennui is so very boring, almost as boring as (2) pretentious know-it-alls. this book manages to combine all three. i learned nothing except a new way to be irritated. oh, donna tartt... as if!
Shortly after starting this book I Wikipedia'd Donna Tartt, to see if I was dealing with some sort of reverse George Eliot; I had been under the impression that only men got as smugly pretentious as Tartt does. But no, she's a real lady! Ask Bret Easton Ellis, whom she was banging at U. Miss while in a grad writing course that also included Jonathan Lethem and Jill Eisenstadt, so that is a whopping lot of talent in one course, and also Bret Easton Ellis.

Who, you sortof start to wonder, did he ma...more
This book will linger in my memory for a long time. I was nearly finished with it last night, and found myself awake thinking not only about how it will end, but about several of the scenes and how they come together in the end. The author wrote this book masterfully and I found myself completely immersed in the story and the characters.
The plot moves slowly, but it has so much depth and complexity it needs to. I read this book after Tartt's The Little Friend (despite the lower reviews), and I a...more
You guys, I am really scared that The Goldfinch was so fucking good that it has ruined me for all other books. Everything I've read since has just felt like stupid bullshit (well, with the exception of You Deserve Nothing , which did manage to rule).

Anyway, using the "hair of the dog" theory, I'm turning back to this for a re-read. Maybe once I come out the other side I'll be recalibrated and ready for normal reading life again?


Great good gracious. I am honestly a bit tongue-tied, delirious...more
The best word I can think of to describe this book is mesmerizing. You know from the very first page that the narrator and his friends will kill someone during the course of the story - you even know who the victim is and how he dies. But that didn't stop me from reading this book as fast as I could, trying to absorb every word.
A truly gifted author can create the most unappealing character possible and still draw the audience to his/her side. Donna Tartt does exactly this with her main charact...more
And after we stood whispering in the underbrush – one last look at the body and a last look round, no dropped keys, lost glasses, everybody got everything? – and then started single file through the woods, I took one glance back through the saplings that leapt to close the path behind me. Though I remember the walk back and the first lonely flakes of snow that came drifting through the pines, remember piling gratefully into the car and starting down the road like a family on vacation, with Henry...more
Stephen P
As tempting as it is I don't believe that reading a book changes a life. I do believe that great books lead to an accumulation of small alterations which further develops a, thinking-self. This is a self, in Svenn Birketts article in a past issue of the American Scholar, that exists parallel but apart from the self that is goal-oriented and copes with the world. This other self is inward, reflective, contemplative, associative and devoid of goals. It exists for and within itself. It leads us to...more
Jul 04, 2011 Shovelmonkey1 rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who won't be disappointed that not everyone dies
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 book group on GR
Ah smug and mostly over privileged college kids run amock in a half-arsed orgy of sex (or at least some illicit below the belt touching), drugs and classical music (no rock n roll at this Bacchanalian blood fest - that would be way too low brow). I could not stop myself from imagining the cast of Buffy in the title roles if this gets made into a film. Maybe it has been made into a film? I have a proven Goodreads review history of not knowing that books have already been made into films... anyway...more
Jun 26, 2011 Regina rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Fans of Tana French, Fans of psychological thrillers
Recommended to Regina by: Gena
This book embodies everything that I love in fiction, it is a perfect example of why I love to read. Every word and phrase that appears on the pages of this book (and it is pages, as this book is not available in ebook format as of yet!) is so beautiful and so rich. Everytime I sat down to read this book, I felt as if I was in the midst of eating a perfectly cooked filet mignon and a very rich but salty potato side dish accompanied by a strong red wine. This book was a true treat for my senses....more
What an amazing book! Reading the book made me wish I'd studied Greek classics at University; the stories and philosophies of the ancient Greeks seem so fascinating. This is definitely a very intellectual, psychological read with a lot of mystery. The language is beautiful. I read somewhere that some people complained about Donna Tartt essentially showing off her knowledge and vocabulary in this book but I really don't see what the problem is; I enjoyed how she expressed herself and what's langu...more
R.J. Astruc
What a load of pretentious bum-poo.

The Secret History is the story of a bunch of dull but preternaturally beautiful super-nerds who study subjects no one cares about at a fantasy university where the only work you have to do is compete to see who is the Biggest Disaffected Sulkypants on the planet.

I met a guy once who was just like this book, as it happens. He drank a lot of rum, talked rot about Neitzsche and foreign existentialist movies we'd never seen, then spent five hours puking into the b...more
Doug Bradshaw
Here is a world of elite gifted students from wealthy east coast families who are hand picked by the talented Greek scholar Julian, to have the best one on one education money can buy. And Richard, a scholarship boy from California is somehow allowed into the group to participate. He is smart but inexperienced and of course, quiet and intimidated as he mostly observes and then works hard to become part of the group and to fit in. The students are gifted, especially the leader of the group who se...more

I guess it’s not what I could call a proper review because I read The secret history some years ago. But not too much ago to not remember what I was thinking then .

When I started I was like : o dear me, it’ll be for sure a five star book . About two hundred pages later my thinking was like : that’s not that the book isn’t still good but there’s something not quite right about it. And finally , as one can see , I ended up with three stars. And it’s a really good rating because I felt that I was...more
(aka Dead Poets Society ... of DOOM!)

The characters all see the collision coming, as if in slow motion. The time and place are set; they could have turned away, but chose not to, and the story is the path to that explosive collision and the trajectory all the broken parts follow as they burst and separate.

I'm not much for mysteries. Someone dies, someone did it, and so much time is spent finding out who and why. Tartt gives you the who immediately, and although it's never particularly clear WHY,...more
This book is an absolute masterpiece, and probably my No.1 all-time favourite. Every time I read it I am simply overcome with awe and joy at Donna Tartt's perfect writing, characterisation, plot, everything. Nothing I say can do any justice to how brilliant The Secret History actually is; looking at that five-star rating, it seems insufficient. Anyone reading this who hasn't had the pleasure of enjoying this modern classic - buy it immediately. And while I am always happy to tolerate and accept...more
I have mixed feelings on this one, but have decided to give it 4 stars primarily for the writing.

The book centers around a very small/elite group of students studying Greek at a rural New England college. From the very first page, we know that one of these students was killed, and by whom. What we don't know is why.

The secrets to this murder are slowly revealed to us through the point of view of another student, Richard, as he is accepted into the group and sucked into their strange world.

I was...more
One of my all-time favorite books. I just love the feel and tone of this novel. I can taste the booze, I can smell the always makes me want to drink, smoke and dress in good clothing. This is about my 80th reading of The Secret History. It gets better each time. The narrator is so great and I secretly love him. What is it about? It's about Greek tragedy, groups of friends that know better, very smart people who know better, autumn, winter, spring thaw, love, hate, booze, cigarett...more
Aug 25, 2011 Catie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Catie by: Regina
After reading Donna Tartt’s opening dedication to Bret Easton Ellis, I immediately began comparing everything about this setting with the setting of The Rules of Attraction. I was even convinced for a few chapters that the small liberal arts’ colleges where these two stories take place had the same name. (They don’t. But seriously: Camden/Hampden and New Hampshire/Vermont…you can see why I was so convinced.)

That’s where the similarities between these novels end. But what I find so compelling is...more
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Donna Tartt (born 23 December 1963) is an American writer who received critical acclaim for her first two novels, The Secret History (1992) and The Little Friend (2002). Tartt was the 2003 winner of the WH Smith Literary Award for The Little Friend.

The daughter of Don and Taylor Tartt, she was born in Greenwood, Mississippi but raised 32 miles away in Grenada, Mississippi. At age five, she wrote h...more
More about Donna Tartt...
The Goldfinch The Little Friend The Secret History & The Little Friend A Christmas Pageant The Ambush

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“Beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. Quite the contrary. Genuine beauty is always quite alarming.” 296 likes
“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.” 292 likes
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